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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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A synod offers sanctuary

Southwest California

For the most part it was a quiet Sunday morning last October in a neighborhood north of Los Angeles. But tensions ran high near Iglesia Luterana San Pablo, an ELCA congregation in North Hollywood.

Cesar A. Arroyo, the pastor, had spread word to expect Minutemen—volunteers who, among other activities, monitor the U.S.-Mexico border for illegal entry—coming to protest San Pablo’s housing of an illegal immigrant known as “Juan.”

Arroryo, well-known in the community, stressed that the Minutemen were not to be harassed.

While the Minutemen protested across from the church, San Pablo members and contingents from other congregations, Protestant and Roman Catholic, were led by Dean W. Nelson, bishop of the ELCA Southwest California Synod. After services, the worshipers circled the building, singing. When they neared the Minutemen, they stopped and prayed.

Jill Connelly<BR><BR>ELCA Southwest
ELCA Southwest California Bishop Dean W. Nelson talks about the New Sanctuary Movement at an informational gathering last November at Angelica Lutheran Church in Los Angeles.
Nelson said he decided to attend the service, aware that he was there as a representative of the ELCA, after more than a year of deliberate choices to support the interfaith movement known as New Sanctuary.

Modeled after the original Sanctuary of the 1980s that came in response to an increase in refugees from warring areas of Central America, the current movement sprung from a statement in 2006 by Roger Mahony, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He had instructed priests to disregard provisions of a U.S. House of Representatives bill that would criminalize providing humanitarian aid to anyone without checking their legal status.

The bill wasn’t enacted, but Mahony’s statements mobilized congregations of various faiths to begin working toward changing immigration policy and, more controversially, to assist—and in some cases shelter—undocumented immigrants and pledge not to reveal their identities, even under threat of arrest.


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